As Jason Wardman, technical director at Mamemo Productions, led us onto site during set-up for the Dubai Beach Polo Cup, it was hard to believe that it was only one week to the day since Dubai saw some of its heaviest rainfall in recorded history. While the emirate may be one of the most stable locations in terms of year-round sunshine, outdoor events taking place over the last couple of weeks and into this month have had to be prepared to put up with more than a simple April shower.
Luckily, by the time Sound & Stage stepped onto the Beach Polo Cup site, there was no trace of what had struck only a few days prior. “The first day of the build we had rain for half the day,” recalls Wardman, “then the second day of the build we had a full day of torrential rain. We ended up with a lake over in the corner that was quite deep actually — to the point where I did even have a flock of wading birds in there for about three days! We’ve put a lot of sand in that area because, once the waters had receded, we ended up with quite a lot of mud and we don’t want our guys or machinery wading through that.”
“As with most of Dubai there are no drains here,” he continues, “it is what it is, so we have to work around it. We moved about 200-300 cubic metres of sand across the site into that corner so it’s now not so much of a natural dip as it was and hopefully we won’t get as much pooling there as we did in the past.”
Fortunately, there was one aspect of the Beach Polo Cup build-up where the adverse conditions would not have had any effect. Instead of shipping gear on rough seas from other locations or flying in crews that might have been delayed, the annual event takes particular pride in one important element — a local preference.
Manal Katiela, project manager at Mamemo, explains: “We’re bringing in local suppliers and showcasing them. Dubai has so much potential, we don’t really need to bring in outside companies to do this job — we’re saying ‘look what we can do working together’, so all of our suppliers come together and work this out perfectly.”
Wardman continues: “The suppliers are partners in this event really — we have a lot of goodwill and they enjoy doing it. Obviously the Skydive site is really helpful to us, and it’s also a great space as a showcase, not only for Polo but for the companies as well. All these people living around here, who may not think about going to a polo match, can just stroll down the road and enjoy something they might not have seen before. It’s not only a way of showcasing local companies and skills but bringing Polo to a wider audience as well.”
And this year’s event certainly seems to be focusing on this aim. Katiela tells us: “We don’t want people to think of Polo as being high-end or for an older generation — it’s something that everyone can enjoy, it’s a sport. Here in Dubai, Polo is such a big part of things but this is something different; you don’t have to be into the sport to enjoy it but you have the social aspect, the people, the venue in the heart of Dubai and everybody knows it. We just want the younger crowd to see it, to understand it, and to enjoy it.”
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To complement this ‘inclusive’ approach to what’s often considered an ‘exclusive’ sport, the venue has this year undergone a few changes. Wardman explains: “This year we wanted to try and make it a little bit more personal. We don’t have the Falcon Beams this year, so we’re not lighting up the whole Dubai skyline — we’re concentrating on lighting up our arena instead. And, with the fireworks, instead of having a big display out there [points towards marina] it will actually be more of a symphony-type, programmed event which will happen in front of everybody rather than in front of some of the crowd and behind others — it’s something that everybody’s looking at. Instead of looking off-site, it makes it a little bit more private; a bit more exclusive.”
Katiela adds: “It tends to be a retuning crowd each year, but this year we’re targeting a bit more of a younger crowd for the Shams area, because the Majlis area is purely VIP — our sponsors, event partners and VIP guests. We’re not making major changes, just little things here and there, such as the fireworks are going to be within the polo field to keep a unified feel between both sides seeing it.”
And this year’s event has also seen another new element introduced, which — while those enjoying the finished event will barely even consider — has made sure the set-up, even with almost two days lost to bad weather, stayed on track. Wardman tells us: “The first process this year was that I had a GPS survey carried out. They surveyed the site to get the boundaries, then I gave them my drawings for the event and they marked all the important points that we need for our build. That makes the whole process a lot quicker. Instead of marching around the field with 100m tape measures we can build between one flag line and another flag line, which makes it a lot quicker for the contractors when they’re putting in decks — they know that they’re straight and in the right place. This year was the first time we’ve done that and I’m very pleased with it. The way that it’s allowed us to catch up has been well worth it, and I think without it we would probably, at this point, have been two or three days behind instead of actually one day ahead.”
So with a three-week window for setting up the site and a one-day lead at the time of our visit, the team were hopeful that everything would be complete and that the skies would stay clear. Wardman explains: “We started on March 8th and hopefully we’ll finish on the 30th, with the first show day on April 1st. Knowing the event industry as I do we will probably be working through the night on the 31st! But we are aiming to be pretty much show ready by the evening of the 30th.”
“We will then have nine days to take it all out,” he continues. “We will probably do it in about eight but we always like to leave the site better than we find it so we like to have a bit of time here and there just to do a little extra work filling in potholes etc., even if it’s not created by us. For the hospitality that Skydive Dubai show us it’s nice to be able to do something in return and leave them with a better site than when we arrived.”